Saturday, July 6, 2013

Lovely, stinking, wonderful black goo

By: George Lee Cunningham

IMG_3204If you want to understand a big reason why Long Beach is Long Beach, take a quick trip up to Signal Hill. There at Temple Avenue and Hill Street you will find Discovery Well – the Shell Oil well where the great California oil rush began.

On Jan 23, 1921, at 9:30 p.m. oil workers on the rig hit black gold, gushing more than 100 feet into the air and spraying everything in near vicinity with lovely, stinking, sticky dark goo. The kind of dark goo that makes both people and cities rich and brings folks running from distant places to get in on the boom.

The timing was fortunate. Dr. W. Pelekan, an executive geologist for Shell Oil, was planning to travel to the city to put a stop to the costly dry hole being drilled at the hilltop location. Before he was able to shut down the operation, however, the hole hit oil – lots and lots of oil – at 3,114 feet down.

Oil changed everything. Long Beach was suddenly an oil town, even after Signal Hill became its own city in 1924, and nothing was ever the same.

The Signal Hill oil field was one of the richest ever found in North America. In 1923 – the year of peak production – California produced almost one-quarter of the world’s entire output of oil. Ninety-two years later, the Signal Hill field is still producing. So far, total production from the field has been almost 1 billion barrels, and there’s more waiting to be pumped.

George Cunningham and his wife, Carmela, are writing a book on the history of the Port of Long Beach.  You can email George at


  1. Thank you Kathy. We have not, but we will put it on our list.

  2. kathleen cairns says:

    Hey guys, you probably have read the book by Jules Tygiel about Chauncy Julian and oil in California. If not, it’s great.

Leave your comment

The comments are closed.